New City Catechism 34.3
Question 34: Since we are redeemed by grace alone, through Christ alone, must we still do good works and obey God’s Word?
Answer: Yes, because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, also renews us by his Spirit; so that our lives may show love and gratitude to God; so that we may be assured of our faith by the fruits; and so that by our godly behavior others may be won to Christ.
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus taught his disciples that they were to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salt was widely used in the ancient world as a preservative (before they had refrigerators). Jesus pictures his disciples as having a presence in the world that is unmistakable (like salt) and that holds back or restrains the world’s natural tendency toward corruption. As light, Jesus’ followers are to be those who pierce through darkness and, once again, are unmistakable for their good works. In a world without electricity, it was impossible to miss a city on a hill at night, where oil lamps were burning inside houses, shining conspicuously in an atmosphere of darkness.
But there is one challenge in Jesus’ teaching that can be difficult to sort out. On the one hand, he taught his disciples in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them,” but earlier in Matthew 5:16 he said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Are we supposed to be seen or not? Actually, being seen or not is not the main point. The main point is one’s motive in doing good works. If you pursue good works so that you can attract attention to yourself, then Jesus says you already have your reward. But if you do good works out of a heart that genuinely loves God and neighbor, then your light will be conspicuous, and people will see the difference the gospel has made in you, and they will be drawn to it as well, giving glory to your Father. There is no greater defense of the gospel than the holy lives of those who profess to believe it.
Suggested passage for personal or family reading: Matthew 5:13-16. What is the point of the salt metaphor? What about the light metaphor? How does this passage speak to your life today?
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